To hear / 17 January 2019

Queer Partizani

Borghesia and the aftermaths of Slovenian Punk

Without context knowledge, some of these impressions might be disturbing: In the music video ‘Discipline’, taken from Borghesia’s 1990 album Resistance, black and white shots of Yugoslavian military parades, scenes from hardcore porn, close-ups from Leni Riefenstahl’s NS-propaganda movie Triumph des Willens, snippets from video games as well as symbols of the Western Gay Liberation Movement, embodied by some animated characters from Tom of Finland'sKake Comics, are presented to the viewer at the same time. In juxtaposition, imagery of folkdance groups, religious insignias and alpine peaks are floating in the consciousness of the beholder. Accompanied by the synthesised sounds of a distorted baseline Borghesia frontman Dario Seraval shouts out words like slogans, while a tank is crossing the screen’s lines. A few seconds before Slobodan Milošević appears, a children's choir from early times proclaims the need for more weapons. As if, prophetically, the font insert ‘New Tito’ lights up in the background.

Politically as well as aesthetically provocative strategies like these were not a single phenomenon in Yugoslavian Art of the 80s. While Borghesia still remains to address insiders, Laibach broadly announced them to Western media. Founded in 1980 in the Red District of Trbovlje – a formerly well-known industrial city in the centre of Slovenia – the members of Laibach started to develop what they later called ‘Novi Primitivizam’ (‘new primitivism’)Asked about their aims by Slovenian journalist Jure Pengov, the members of the art group publicly took one of their first stands on their actions in 1983. They declared the study of Nazi art as one of their main interests, but also mentioned that this includes intense debates on Stalinism, Disco, Slovenian folk art, industrial work and Taylorism – if not much more. With this undoubtedly eclectic expression of interest, Laibach brought together what had been carefully separated by state guided policies. The interviewer’s objection to the liberal aims of Yugoslav party ideologist, Edvard Kardelj, was countered with the argument that the happiness of the individual cannot be on the political agenda of any form of communism. Instead, a surplus of control of the people should be guaranteed – a surplus, which probably could have channelled the upcoming nationalism of the early 90s.


Cover from Borghesia’s Album resistance (1990)

Laibach and Borghesia were founded in the 80s cultural climate of an open comprehensive political process. Bands like Anja Rupel’s Videosex, one of the first women's punk bands in Yugoslavia, occurred in reach of Ljubljana ŠKUC – the Študentski Kulturni Center – as well. In 1984, the first Magnus Festival took place in Ljubljana, regarded as the oldest LGBT-festival on site, focusing on video art and performance. Magnus Festival was closely linked to the activities of the band Borghesia, founded in 1982 in Ljubljana by Aldo Ivančić and Dario Seraval. The name alludes to the state of the bourgeoisie before the French Revolution and stands for an oppositional attitude in a socialist-governed state. As part of their performances, the band members opened up a disco for homosexuals in Ljubljana called FV Disco. Inspired by the emerging Gay Movement, they also experimented with homoerotic imagery in their videos. Within a touch of surreal S/M aesthetics, gay icons became part of their very specific iconography.

Since the beginnings, Borghesia saw itself as an open experiment within a politically liberal framework. The relatively autonomous counterculture of the 80s was not only tolerated by the state, it created its own spaces for sexual experimentation, physical excesses, collective forms of life apart from government regulations and for the use of drugs. In the mid-70s, the band members of Borghesia came together as the theatre collective FV 112/15, which rehearsed in the student dorm Veternica. In their plays, they expressed their dissatisfaction with the dominant culture by contributing to S/M-elements and fetish eroticism. The name of the group goes back to an entry in a Slovenian encyclopaedia, abbreviated with the initials FV: The numerical code 112/15 refers to the request ‘C'est la guerre!’, which can be found on page 122 in line 15. 

The early performances of FV 112/15 were similar to Fassbinder’s concept of ‘Antitheater’; later on, elements from Fluxus, Futurism and Dadaism became part of this punk-like Cabaret Voltaire. In a performance called ‘The Great May Performance’and another one, named ‘Spring in the Air –A Poem for Stalin’, a line was drawn between partisan struggle and the image of a cum shot – a political demystification, evoked by sexual means. In their contribution to the 1983 Music Biennial in Zagreb, Laibach profited from Borghesia’s early analogy. The Yugoslavian partisan movie, The Revolution is Still Going On (Revolucija Još Traje), was partly blended with an American porn movie. By this means, the performance show of the Yugoslavian army turns into a vivid demonstration of state-enforced (hetero)sexism. With ‘The Futurists’, the first work of FV 112/15 was created, in which the actors completely renounced their stage presence. Instead, five superimposed television sets communicated with each other. Borghesia justified their turn in media usage with an ongoing aversion to theatre. It has become a dead medium, because of the ruling class reclaiming it for their interests.

In the mid-80s, the video artists Zemira Alajbegović, Neven Korda und Goran Devide joined BorghesiaFrom then on, intermedia works were also brought on stage, as well as visuals, adapting to the rhythm of live concerts. From 1985-1994, Borghesia distributed videos on its own independent label, FV Založba, which was reorganised in 1995 under the name FV Music. From that point, their music took more inspiration from street vibe than from art punk. On Borghesia’s first LP titled Ljubav je hladnija od smrti (1985, named after Fassbinder's film Love is Colder than the Death from 1968), Borghesia anticipated the sound and attitude of late Industrial, in the song ‘Naked Uniformed Dead’(1988), the demand for ‘poppers’ was coupled with that for ‘truth’, followed by a music video that gives us a sneaky example in human testing: Expressing his Rage Against the Machine by yelling out loudly, Dario Seraval gets himself into a state near breakdown, but an off-screen voice still gives him the instruction ‘Don’t crash’!

The political transformation of sexuality was pointed out not only in the performances of FV 112/15, but also in Borghesia’s music videos. In the song ‘No Hope No Fear’ (Ni Upanja Ni Strahu) a phrase that might have been cut out of a McCarthy speech is used for a masturbation tutorial: Bodies in chains, men in suspenders, women in leather and flogged flesh – dangerous ways of sexual self-exploration might follow, as with a bottleneck between her legs, Zemira Alajbegović slips up and down the edge of the bathtub as the beat slowly speeds up. The myth of an Eastern European youth in the service of political tenses was hardly contested by images like these. In contrast to dominant media discourse, one did not find a generation of hopeless, proletarian youngsters by looking at them. Instead, the members of Borghesia, who also were social science students at the State University of Ljubljana referred, in an interview with the Slovenian TV channel SLO2, to the French philosopher Michel Foucault. Yes, in socialism, too, power seizes the bodies. While Seraval, close to physical collapse, continues to waste himself, Kandinsky's triangles penetrate a black square – a highly formalised response to the farce of sexual self-determination.

Asked about the aesthetic strategy underlying their art, Borghesia member Aldo Ivančić responded in an interview with Redost: ‘I think these were images that probably cut deeper into the collective militarism of a socialist character than the ideological confusion provoked by Laibach’. Borghesia took the risk to overturn those frozen postures. During their concerts, the musicians created states of deep intensity, erupting in, on and through the body. Their music did not resemble the punk gesture of West German art students. Rather, the beat, which could have come from the steady beat of a hammer on an anvil, works just as hard as the self-output of the singer. In contrast, the movements of the drummer Aldo Ivančić often seemed to be rigid. They allude to the movements of ‘Tayloristically’ standardised bodies, which still have to fulfil the production requirements. 

In addition to Laibach, Borghesia, by means of totalitarian symbols, demanded the real unrepeatability of an antifascist attitude which, as a state-ordained aim, quickly became a farce. However, as a result of their specific usage of montage, those symbols can never be fully denoted. As an artist group, Borghesia organised themselves away from state structures. They adapted the idea of a worker’s self-government, also shared by the student’s movement, and placed great value on maximum autonomy in the production, as well as in the distribution of their work. Expertise, strict hierarchies, the separation of work into hand and head were rejected by the Ljubljana-based collective, as well as all forms of gender-specific division of labour.


As an audiovisual formation, some of the former members of Borghesia were reunited under the name Bastin 1998. Together with Igor Stromajer and Davide Grassi from the Slovenian multimedia platforms Intima and Aksioma, Aldo Ivančić produced several albums under the Creative Common license. For a short time, Bastalso worked on stage with the American radical performer Ron Athey and with drag queen Vaginal Davis. However, whips were nevertheless alien to BorghesiaZemira Alajbegović has already used such utilities in some of the band’s S/M-performances. Instruments like these leave their marks – as first hints to a history of an autonomous LGBT underground in former Yugoslavia. According to Aldo Ivančić, an explicitly political project like this could not be established without conflicts. It is the result of an indefinite struggle that, according to Ivančić, never stopped, not even after 1991, Slovenia’s independence from Yugoslavia: But once you have decided not to like the mainstream, your whole life is a single fight’.

In terms of body codes and gender images Borghesia, however, remains unique within Novi Primitivizam. In addressing gender issues artistically, they broke with a well-guarded political taboo beyond any attempt to follow-up identity politics. The collective propagated a body policy that also was transgressive in terms of sexuality. This is also the reason why I consider their approach as part of a genuinely queerpartisan strategy: Borghesia reinvented the idea of what this is meant to be beyond the state-propagated praises of the partisan struggle. Their intense interest in totalitarian formations can be seen as radical provocation of the state of the art. In the guise of the enemy – and this includes the Nazi uniform – they exposed the totalitarian tendencies of a non-totalitarian state. 


Barbara Eder

is an author and journalist, currently living in Vienna. She studied social sciences, economics and philosophy in Vienna, Frankfurt and Berlin and spent several years in Hungary and Armenia, writing texts for newspapers, books and anthologies,